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Organic solvents

From the putting your safety first section

Under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, if you are an employee, the Act gives you responsibility for your own safety and health at work and employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

Organic solvents

Many organic solvents are volatile. They give off a vapour and will evaporate quickly at room temperature. Not all give out a strong smell.

The word toxic is often used when referring to a harmful solvent.

How do you ensure that there will be no ill effects from solvents used in your workplace? The first step is for both employer and employees to know about and read the Safety Data Sheet for each product used.

Safety Data Sheets:

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) should be available at the place of work for all to read. These sheets detail the hazards and set out the precautions for handling the chemical safely.

Consult the SDS carefully.

Properties of solvents

Many solvents evaporate and form vapour in the air when containers are left open. Their vapours can be breathed in and lead to health problems.

Many solvent vapours are highly flammable. They will readily create an atmosphere in which a fire can start.

Not all solvents are flammable. Knowledge of what you are dealing with is vital to the proper methods of handling these and other chemicals. At all times take special care to:

Health hazards

Solvents can enter the body by three routes:

Inhaling a harmful vapour is the most common route.

Warning signs

The toxic effects of solvents may be noticed immediately, some time later or both.

Acute poisoning:

The first effects are:

Followed by:

What to do:

Chronic poisoning

After years of repeated exposure, the typical later effects are:

What to do:

Solvents affect the skin

Solvents dissolve the fat contained in human skin and remove the natural protection barrier.

Solvents can cause skin rashes and repeated or prolonged exposure may result in chronic irritant dermatitis.

What to do:

The risk of injury or disease increases with how long you are exposed to the solvent and how much solvent vapour is in the air.

A good rule of thumb is that the longer the exposure (years) and the higher the dose, the greater the health risk.

Control of harmful solvents

First aid

Refer to the SDS for appropriate procedures.

Skin exposure:


To help a victim of over-exposure to solvent vapours:


Splash protection:

If the solvent gets into the eye:


Putting your safety first!
Understanding paint hazards and essential precautions

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